Dr. Rob Dillon, Coordinator

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Freshwater Gastropod Databases Go Global!

Last month we reviewed the not-insubstantial progress that many of our larger national and regional research museums have made with electronic data capture, evaluating their on-line holdings of North American freshwater snails. Among the many nice comments I received from that post were several calling my attention to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, a remarkable data network hosted in Copenhagen. Some of our colleagues feel strongly that the GBIF “Portal” represents the future of online museum databases worldwide.

The system is administered by a governing board, 30 participating countries, and 20 associate countries. It hosts (as of 26May09) over 174 million records across the diversity of eukaryotic life, contributed by 289 data providers worldwide. My query for “Campeloma” entered into the single, simple search box returned an impressive 3,210 records, as follows:

1,414 Florida Museum of Natural History
852 Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia
498 North Carolina State Museum
145 University of Colorado Museum
127 US National Museum
55 Yale (Peabody) Museum
116 (Nine other institutions)

The FLMNH, ANSP, and USNM numbers are reassuringly close to the figures I obtained from my queries to their local on-line datbases, as reported last month. I didn’t think to look at the NCSM last month (Shame on me!) but the (rather impressive) 498 records I retrieved from the GBIF also closely approximate the results I would have gotten from a query to their local site, had I visited. I also didn’t think to look at the Peabody Museum last month, but in this case, the 55 records available from the GBIF are significantly improved over the 15 I would have come away with from a visit to their local on-line database. And the University of Colorado Museum records are a bonus – the UCM no longer maintains a local site, so it’s Copenhagen or nothing. The power of the GBIF idea is undeniable.

The GBIF portal features a gee-whiz mapping function for your results, which plots the occurrence of your taxon of interest on one-degree cells, with the capability of zooming to 0.1 degree and exploring. It also offers the option of exporting search results in several vanilla types of file formats, which you can download, sort and subsample to your heart's content.

So I've added a link to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility from the FWGNA information resources page, and I expect to be hitting that link with increased frequency in the coming years.